Had you been on the ocean before entering the Naval Academy?
No. My first time at sea was a training cruise after completing plebe year. I was assigned to the USS Missouri (BB-63), one of five Iowa-Class battleships, 45,000 tons and nine 16-inch (barrel diameter) guns. It’s an awesome ship – rather intimidating.
Where did you go?
First to La Caruòa, Spain, then north to Bergen, Norway. I took a rickedy railroad train inland to visit the idyllic home of Edvard Grieg, in a pine forest on a small lake. It was a beautiful place to write beautiful music. Then we headed back across the Atlantic to the Caribbean for gunnery exercises. I learned that when they fire a 9-gun salvo of the main battery broadside, the recoil moves that huge ship twelve feet sideways.
Since the ship’s crew ran the ship, what did midshipmen do on cruise?
It’s practical training; we worked alongside enlisted men to gain an understanding what their life at sea is like under normal underway situations as well as at battle stations. The cruise was divided into three segments and the midshipmen rotated into a different department (Deck/Gunnery, Operations, and Engineering) for each segment. When I was in the Deck Department I made an interesting discovery. I was assigned to the after part of the 01 level (one deck above the main deck) to maintain and keep the teak deck spotless. On my first check of my area of responsibility, I noticed a brass plaque inlaid in the deck – something I would need to shine. However, when I read it I realized that shining it was not a task – but an honor. It marked the spot where the Japanese surrendered to end World War II – September 2, 1945. At that moment I felt a psychological connection with this ship. The surrender was signed on my 13th birthday.
It sounds like it was a good experience.
Looking back on it, I think of it as a coming-of-age experience. I thought of the crew members I worked with as my shipmates. I was becoming a sailor – and was proud of it.